Monday, February 2, 2015

It's All Relative

People who say the Beatles weren't all that great-- and I'm speaking to you, you Millenials-- are of course misguided in their notion, because they lack objectivity.  Sure, they've heard Beatles songs, but they don't quite grasp as to why everybody says they are so darn good.  What is missing for those young punks is context.  You see, back in say 1965, were you to turn the knob on your transistor radio you would have heard songs by Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs (Wooly Bully),  Sonny and Cher (I Got You Babe), Tom Jones (What's New Pussycat), and then from the one-watt speaker, like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind, would come a masterpiece like Yesterday by the Beatles.  So yeah, the Beatles were great, but what is essentially forgotten these days was how much better they were over their contemporaries.

Far-out, man...

February 3rd is the anniversary of Norman Rockwell's birth in 1894.  Constant readers of Maine-ly Painting (which if you count individual eye-balls numbers near a dozen!) know that I have a long standing love of Rockwell's art.  I may have even written a post or two, or three about him.  But still, some people-- and I'm talking to you Millenials again-- have come to realize that no, he didn't really suck, but still can't quite grasp as to why he was and still is considered so great.  Again, a little context is needed.

When Norman first started painting covers for the premier weekly magazine of America called The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, he was just one among many cover artists.  There was JC Leyendecker and NC Wyeth to name a couple.  Sure, while Norm was talented enough to be a cover artist, there were still a good many covers done better than his.  Gradually over time though, he started to mature in his style and vision of the America that the Post wanted all their artists to portray.  His people were more convincing, the humor more appealing.  The art itself was more attractive.  By the 1930's more copies were being sold that had his paintings on the cover than any other cover artist.  Rockwell was becoming quite well known if not down right famous.

So what made his work stand out?  Why was Rockwell considered the King Of Illustrators? Well, because he was great, for starters, but also because-- like the Beatles-- he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries.  To prove me right, let's put him in context, shall we?

Here is a run-down of typical Saturday Evening Post covers through the 40's and 50's.  The artists were all top flight, no doubt.  But to see the difference I'll throw in the occasional Rockwell.  

Stevan Dohanos

Howard Scott

Norman Rockwell

Douglas Crockwell

Mead Schaeffer

Norman, again

George Hughes

John Falter

Yep, it's Norm

Amos Sewell

John Atherton

Really?  You need to look at this caption? 

Do you get where I'm coming from?  Week after week the Post had nice, pleasant covers and then-- like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind-- comes a Norman Rockwell cover.

That's what made him so great!

So, Happy Birthday again, Norman.  You'll always be the King in my book.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dear Kris K.

My Dearest Santa,

My, my-- can you believe another year has gone by?  The last I knew I was wondering if I should make a New Year's Resolution, and now here it is time to disregard another one!  Where does the time go?

How are you and Mrs K.?  Please give her my warmest regards.  I swear the woman must have the patience of Job.  What with the elves hammering and clanging and singing non-stop, and all that reindeer poop to take care of.  Is it true that that's what Chia Pets are made from?  Anyway, don't forget to say "hey" to the elves for me, as well.  Let them know I appreciate what they cooked up for me last year.  I know I asked for heat for the Winter, and that lump of coal came in handy, I'll tell you!  I used it to light my living room couch on fire so I could stay warm for one night.  Thanks.

Santa, I know this year has been an exceptionally trying one for all of us here below the North Pole.  What, with frightening disease, mass starvation, riots, war and over-all nastiness the whole World over.  And Santa, I just want to remind you of one thing:

None of it was my fault.

That should get me some bonus points!  Am I right?  Heck yeah!

So with all that in mind, here Santa is what I think I deserve for Christmas this year.  Mostly, it's the intangibles as opposed to specific items.  Like my first choice is Serenity.

Serenity comes with peace of mind.  And to an Artist, what can soothe ones mind and make the brush flow smoother than a whole lot of crisp, green serenity?  The kind with dead Founding Fathers on it! Let's have some Franklins, Hamiltons, a few Chase's, then throw in some dead presidents-- Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, McKinley.  To coin a phrase; For this Christmas, Serenity now!

I know it's important to support the arts, and one way of doing that is by buying work from other artists.  Since, I can't afford that, next on my Christmas list are sculptures by Jeff Koons.

Look, everybody knows he's playing rich people for chumps by calling his banal, worthless crap "art " So if I had one of his bright, stupid looking sculptures, like a Chia Pet covered in mirrors, or something I could sell it for millions of dollars to people who don't have a clue they are being laughed at!  Hey, a fool and his money, right?  What could be more Christmas-ee than that?

Keeping with my spirit of giving, Santa I want to help all those struggling galleries out there.  It's obvious they are having a hard time selling quality artwork.  So if quality doesn't cut it, they should sell mine instead!

This Christmas, while you're dropping by delivering all my goodies, pick up some of my paintings and drop them off to galleries around the world.  Hey, they can't do any worse, right?  Plus, it'll ease up some of the work-load for the elves!  You're welcome, Santa.

Well, that should do it Santa.  It's a short list and imminently do-able if I say so  myself.  Have a safe and happy flight.  I hope Blitzen doesn't have the same intestinal problems he had last year.  Or maybe you can just re-position him so he's not right in front of you...  

'Til I see you on Christmas Eve, Peace on Earth etc., etc.,


Friday, December 12, 2014

Taking The Plunge

Let me ask you;  Are you the type that goes charging head-long into every venture?  You know, "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!"  Or are you the more methodical, take-it-one-step at a time, no need to hurry type?

Here's a scenario:  Say you're at the beach on a hot summer day.  Do you creep up on the water, dipping one toe in a a time, slowly acclimating each body part to the chilly water?  Or do you just go plunging in without a thought-- just get 'er done?  Me?  I'm both.

Now first off a disclaimer-- The Atlantic Ocean here in Maine is not known for it's warmth.  We're not talking Miami Beach here.  In fact, we do our "Polar Plunge" on July 4th!  And have you ever noticed that the warmer the days, the colder the water gets?  There's a scientific reason for that, but this is Maine-ly Painting after all, not Maine-ly Oceanography.  But I digress...  Anyway, I will sneak up to the water, checking the temperature one toe at a time, gauging to see how cold it is and what shock to the system is involved by plunging in.  Then, I turn and high step it in, back arched, my shoulders pinned to my ears, water splashing until I dive in head-first.   Followed by my bursting out of the water, emitting a shriek reminiscent of a steam whistle.  Or a six year old girl...

I'm also that way when it comes to a new painting.  I pussy-foot around, taking a moment here and there doing little thumbnail scribbles on scrap pieces of paper-- no big deal, I may do this painting, maybe not, who knows?  Then comes the occasional glances at potential reference material, whether from my files or the interweb.  Still, no sweat, no commitment.  What I'm doing is trying to figure out what it will take for this painting to come to life.  How much of a shock to the system will it cause, as it were.  But also at this stage, the idea of how great the painting could be is still greater than the reality of the painting itself.  While it's still a dream it's the best piece I've ever done.  My Masterpiece!  All that changes as soon as I start to work on it in earnest.

But really, if I'm being honest the prime reason for my procrastination is because when I do high-step it and jump in feet first it will consume me for however long it takes to finish.  For that length of time I will live and breathe this picture.  It will follow me from my studio up to my house every night where I will spend evenings with one eye on the TV and the other eye on the painting as I analyze it incessantly.  I will spend hours each night lying in bed wide awake as I think of what the next step will be on the painting, what colors will work best, what method of applying paint will be more effective.  There will be no off days.  Every day for the duration will be spent in the studio.

There will also be the emotional roller-coaster, for sure.  The fire of inspiration, the enthusiasm of what can be.  The thrill of seeing my idea start to take form.  It will be followed by the inevitable "I've messed this all up" stage that usually is the half-way mark.  Then comes the drudgery.  The small, endless little detail work that I thought was going to be so much fun is now just a pain-in-the-ass, "what-was-I-thinking?" And "This doesn't look right at all!"  Maybe somewhere in there- if I'm lucky- will be a joyous, "Wow!  That passage came out great!"  But probably not...

At the end of it all will be a finished painting.  Maybe I'll be proud of it, maybe not.  But it will be done, and I will be emotionally drained.  So really, can you blame me if I beat around the bush a little before I do it all again?  It's kinda funny though, usually before the painting is done I've made a few thumbnail scribbles of a new idea.  I've glanced at some reference material.  In short-- I'm tip-toeing along the waters edge, nerving myself up for another plunge.  And maybe this time it will be different--

Maybe this time I won't come up shrieking like a six-year old girl...


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

J.C. Was God

In the first part of the Twentieth Century there was an artist whose work could be seen everywhere.  He graced multiple magazine covers, book illustrations, advertisements.  He was the highest paid illustrator of his time.  His skills were held in awe by fellow artists and his style was aped by many.

No, it wasn't Norman Rockwell, but Joseph Christian Leyendecker-- known as J.C. Leyendecker.

He was born in 1874 and lived until 1951.  If you want more biographical stuff head on over to Wikipedia.  This is Maine-ly Painting, not Maine-ly Biographies after all.  What I want to show are some of his beautiful paintings.

Last year I took a trip to a Newport, Rhode Island to visit a museum called the National Museum Of American Illustration.  They have work from Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, many Maxfield Parrish's, several Rockwells but it was a painting by Leyendecker (and they have many of his) that made my jaw drop.  I knew of his work, but seeing his colors, design and mastery of technique in person was an almost religious experience.

Leyendecker did not use photographs.  He painted from models only.  He made countless preparatory sketches and full-size studies before he tackled the painting.  He was not at all above trashing a painting and starting all over if he felt his first (second or third) attempt wasn't up to snuff.  That habit drove his art editors nuts, but they lightened up when they saw the finished work.  Work like this:

Take a closer look at that horse:

No one else did it like Joe!

No muddy colors on that one!  Every brushstroke was loaded with just the right color, chroma and value. 

Do yourself a favor and click on these to see how he incorporated his underpainting with the final color application.  You can see how he danced and played his local colors on top and around the umber color lay-in, then finished with perfectly tasteful highlights.  It looks super easy-- it is not.

I mentioned his countless studies a moment ago.  Here are a couple that show his thought process not only of the painting, but the best way to approach the subject.

I love this one-- The guy inadvertently looking like a Roman Emperor as he hails a cab.  Look how Leyendecker noticed he didn't have Caesar's right hand positioned correctly to hold the umbrella, so he painted a correct note there on the right of the canvas.  Above that you can see him working out the most effective way to have the guy's finger point to sell the joke.  Leyendecker always gridded these oil sketches so he could transfer them accurately onto another canvas.

Here's another stunning sketch showing his decision making:

Hhmmm... what works better?  The peeling knife pointed up?, at an angle? What about the thumb position-- would that work better?  Should I show the peelings falling into the bowl? It's this amount of prep work that he did that bought him fame and the mansion on the hill that was the envy of the other illustrators.

Along with many others, Norman Rockwell idolized Leyendecker.  But unlike most, Rockwell developed a friendship with the great master.  In his delightful book My Adventures As An Illustrator, he tells of his years knowing both J.C. and his illustrator brother Frank when they all lived in New Rochelle, New York in the 1930's.

There's more to Leyendecker's fascinating story; How his paintings became synonymous with the Arrow Shirt Man, his homosexuality, his dysfunctional relationships. But I'll leave that for you to find out.  Eventually, it was Leyendecker's iconic style that brought about his own down-fall. By the mid 1930's advertisers wanted something fresher and more realistic-- not associated with the Naughts and Roaring Twenties.  You know, more Rockwell-like.  Leyendecker got fewer and fewer commissions as a result and died penniless, alone and forgotten in 1951.  A sad end to a proud and extremely talented man.

Or is it?  Recently with the upswing in interest of paintings from the Golden Age of illustration, his work is fast becoming more and more desirable.  Studies like the ones I've shown here could have been yours for a couple of hundred bucks just ten years ago.  Now they fetch tens of thousands, and his finished paintings done for the Saturday Evening Post go for much more.  There is a whole new appreciation for the Artist that once upon a time everyone thought was the greatest of them all.

J.C. Leyendecker


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Whoa Nellie!

Racing The Load

I've never really been sure if indecision was such a bad thing.  I had spent a number of weeks rounding up props, models and various ephemera for my next painting.  I had taken photos and had worked out a pretty complex preliminary drawing and everything.

And then a completely different idea popped into my head.  It's the painting I'm showing here, Racing The Load. I had no idea where it came from, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

One hundred or more years ago logging was a Winter activity.  Before large trucks and heavy equipment came on the scene to easily strip thousands of acres of trees off the land, it was done by man and beast.  Winter was considered the best time to do it for a couple of reasons.   One was that it was easier to get man-power at that time of year.  Many of the lumbermen did this as their Winter job, and spent Summers working as hired hands on farms.  The second reason was that snow and ice was easier to move the logs over than mud.  Spring, when the snowmelt swelled the rivers and streams, was used to float the logs down-stream to the mills.  So logging camps were set up in the forests, and the men went at it until the Winter broke into Spring.  Nowadays, we tend to romanticize those times.  You know, camping out in the woods, working in the clean mountain air.  Coming back to camp and having a nice meal and camaraderie around the fire.  Ahhh... that was the life!

In truth, it was brutally hard work in severe and often frigid conditions. It was also decidedly less than sanitary-- to put it mildly. Imagine a few dozen or more sweaty, stinking men who hadn't had a bath in weeks or months jammed together in small poorly ventilated log huts; You could smell a logging camp long before you saw it...

And the wood had to get down the hills to the rivers.  That's what this painting is about.  Quite often, an unlucky team of horses got run over when the load they were pulling down an icy hill came down faster than they could run.  The logs would roll over the poor beasts like a bowling ball, sending the teamster flying off into the woods, battering and breaking bones of all involved.  They could patch up the teamster if he lived.  No Veterinarians helped the horse.

I wanted to show that frantic, frenetic motion of a team running for their lives-- crashing through the snow, darting through the shadows of the remaining trees, plummeting down toward the dark bottom of the hill like an avalanche. To do that, I tried a couple different tactics.

First off was my point-of-view. Where are you (the viewer) positioned to see this scene swirl past you?  Up in a tree?  The next hill over?  Don't know, do you?  This is a nod to the "All omnipotent" point of view that the illustrators of the 30's and 40's used.  For instance, check out this illustration of Houdini by Tom Lovell:

Yup, there he is, leaping off a bridge-- but where are you?  Look again.  You are suspended in mid-air over the river to view this scene.  Yikes!  So it is with my horses; You are a part of my scene as a viewer, but you're not quite sure where you are.

Another way I tried to impart a sense of emotion along with motion in my picture is through the brush-work.  I will be the first to admit that I am a lover of well refined detail.  But if I had lovingly painted every rock, twig and log in my usual tight, crisp splendor it would have stifled the flow.  So in this case, to keep things in suspense, I went with loaded brush and knife to swirl and splatter the paint in thick impasto.

One last thing about this painting.  No photographs were harmed in the making of it.  That's right-- this is purely from my imagination.  Lord only knows how many years it's been since I did something that didn't have me sweating over a photo, trying to copy every last detail... But it's been awhile!

So there you have it, another Americana painting in the books. I think this makes about a dozen, and one thing I know--

I'm not reining them in!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where'd You Get That Idea?

Ever since I started this whole Americana painting series, I've been besieged by people asking where I get my ideas for scenes. Well,  I'm not saying hundreds of people ask me.  In truth it might even be less than a dozen.  Okay, maybe one person asked.

Apparently, I have a low thresh-hold when it comes to besiegers...

Anyway, since I keep no "Official Artist Secrets"  I thought it would be fun to chat about that aspect of painting.

Doing figurative, and even narrative scenes does require a tad more thought than zipping around the country side looking for places to paint, if I say so myself.  After all, the Americana paintings involve depicting scenes of 100 years ago.  But whether a painting is a landscape or Americana, first the inspiration has to hit me.

I have a pretty good collection of books pertaining to the 19th Century, and I'm always hunting for more.  I keep some of them in my studio where I love to kick back and go through them in search of ideas.  It isn't the photos that usually get me, but some description of an event.  If it's written well, a mental image pops up that might inspire me.

Take Day Dreamer, for instance.  I got the idea from a diary entry written by a young girl at the turn of the Twentieth century.  (It was in the dark blue book above, next to Hometown U.S.A.)  In it, she talked about her chore twice a week of trimming the wicks and cleaning the soot from the chimneys of oil lamps.  I thought that might make an interesting little slice-of-life scene, so I noodled the small thumbnail sketch I show at the top of this page.  But there it sat for months until I stumbled upon an authentic dress from that time period at an antique store.  I knew my grand-daughter Paige would make an excellent model for the girl-- and in truth I wanted to use her in some kind of picture all along.  So after a posing session with her wearing the dress, and sitting at a table with some old oil lamps, Voila!  There it was.

The painting Daily Commute was a different animal entirely.

That one started as a simple car trip through Bowdoinham, Maine on a glorious summer day.  I was passing over the Cathance River and saw a train trestle that is actually still in use.  In my minds eye, I saw a group of kids playing and swimming in the water near the stone trestle as a train chugs by.  I thought it was a marvelous idea.  In fact, it was so good Thomas Eakins almost did it for me...

Okay, I thought, what else could be going on in the river?  For some reason, a river ferry came to mind.  Why, I don't know-- I hadn't been reading or looking at any photos of one.  But hey-- why not?  So, a ferry traversing the river while a train goes by.  Oh, and wouldn't it be cool if I showed someone- maybe in a horse and buggy- waiting on the shore?  And that's really the skinny on how I do it;  I just start thinking up scenarios as I go along.  After my brain-storming session, I started in with the thumbnails:

Basically, these are just short-hand to get my thoughts on paper.  I finally settled on this one:

I don't know about you, but I really try very hard to make as compelling an over-all design as I can.  I might have one idea or vantage point when I first come up with an idea, but I'll try several thumbnails to work out any possible alternative.  You may not like the one I chose, but it wasn't because I didn't think of anything else.

Now, all of those were done without any reference material.  So the next step was to find locations, research old photos, you name it, anything I could find to look at in order to make this idea come to life.

Here's a screen shot of my reference file for this painting:

And I still had plenty more.  You can see that I have a mixture of here and now, and way back then.  The here-and-now shots are of places up to fifty miles from my home.  But also notice-- I didn't copy any of these in the painting!

I use photo reference material for one reason:  To show me how something looks so that I can make an informed depiction of it.  I can imagine a tree, or a river or a plank fence.  But seeing the real thing gives me those little details that I probably would not have thought of otherwise.  So while the scene is imaginary, all of the elements in it are based on real things, just reverted back to my imagination to fit in with the scene.  Don't be afraid-- It makes sense to me...

After all of that comes the painting part.  See?  Nothing to it!

So now you know how it all comes about.  Currently, I'm in-between paintings.  But not to worry-- I think I may be coming up with an idea!

And so the process begins anew...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mine Doesn't Look Like That

Back before the dawn of time, you know-- when I was starting to paint-- finding contemporary art to look at wasn't that easy.  By "Contemporary" I mean stuff done by living artists, not necessarily a style. ( Of course, the interweb didn't exist-- heck, TV only had four channels.  And no remote!)  In search of art, one had to view art magazines like American Artist, or try to find art books in the library.  Going to art galleries was out of the question for a kid growing up out in the sticks like me, and museums weren't exactly located just down the road from me, either.  But when I did manage to look at art, one thought kept occurring to me:

My stuff doesn't look like that!

What I was seeing was work done by more modernist types, or if they showed realism, it was by artists at the top of their craft.  As a fledgling artist wannabee, it gave me pause, but also a conviction to get better.

Nowadays, of course, not only is it far easier to see art, it's almost inescapable.  Web sites, social media, along with tried and true print methods mean I can spend hours and hours looking at what's out there in art land.  What do I notice the most?

My stuff doesn't look like that!

To be perfectly honest, there are times when that thought keeps me up at night.  Usually when I've spent time looking at art gallery web sites. Like you, I check out galleries for a couple of reasons.  One, to view some good art and gauge how I stand with my stuff.  Second, to see if my work might fit in for future representation by that gallery.  What I see is almost always depressing.  Not that the work I see is so good, and mine is so bad (Although unfortunately, that's not all that rare...) But mine is... different. So I question if the gallery would be interested in my depiction of things.

Then again, there are times when I view my style and voice as a good thing.  After all, aren't we trying to be different?  Aren't we supposed to try and stand out from the crowd?  I remind me of the kid who shaves half his head, and dyes the other half ultra-violet, has a fire-breathing dragon tattoo scrawled on his neck, then has assorted pins and chains dangling from his eye-brow, nose and lip-- and complains when people look at him.  It isn't lost on me that my choice of subjects done in a realistic manner has been done to death.  So, isn't using my own voice in trying a different slant on the tried and true a sign of maturity as an artist?  So yeah,  there are times when I inwardly puff my chest out and say to myself with pride:

My stuff doesn't look like that!

Then, with renewed confidence in myself, I go back to looking at gallery websites.  And begin the cycle all over again...

Because isn't it a double edge sword?  If you paint like the crowd, why would any gallery notice you?  After all-- they already have what you do.  If you are going to paint scenes like everyone else, you better be tons better than the average artist.  And that, I am not.  But then again, human nature being what it is, some galleries want the tried and true.  Why risk it- especially in this economy? So, they probably won't look at anything new either.

Now, I will say right here that I am blessed to be with the galleries I am currently in.  They have exhibited a willingness to try something new by taking me on, and for that I am truly grateful.  And truth be told, I'm usually too busy painting my latest, or coming up with ideas for my next to stop and care about where I stand in the grand scheme of art.

So, what's one to do?  Put the blinders on and paint with the conviction that I am doing what I believe in.  And for those occasions when that nagging bit of doubt creeps in to make me stop and say, "My stuff doesn't look like that!"  I guess what I should do is smile and remind myself, "Yeah--

My stuff doesn't look like that!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aint No Rockefeller, And Other Thoughts...

I remember well years ago when I was working on a portrait and struggling mightily.  I couldn't for the life of me see what was wrong with the face, but yet it still didn't look quite right.  Anyone who has ever tried to draw a recognizable human face will know what I'm talking about.  So I was huffing, and puffing and frustrated when a person (who will remain nameless) said to me, "Well, you know-- you're no Rockefeller."  I blinked my eyes a few times then said, "Rockwell.  I'm no Rockwell."

Ah... ex-wives...

I then tweaked a portion of the jaw-line 1/32nd of an inch, and the whole face snapped right into place.

I mention this portrait story because the project I'm currently working on involves a young girls face.  I don't have to make it look just like her, (because, after all, nobody knows her) but I do have to make her look pleasant.  The painting also involves a little landscape and still life.  I was zipping along feeling all kinds of pleased with myself, "Ooh-- that lamp is awesome!" and "Wow, I nailed that table edge!"  You know, stuff like that-- when I came to do her face.  Then it dawned on me:

The whole point of the painting rests on the young girls expression.  No one will give a royal rat's ass how well I painted wood grain, or glass or any other part of the picture if I screw that face up.  I can't stiffen up on it, I can't over-work it, I have to use just the exact right colors.  In short-- it has to be perfect.

No pressure...

Which leads me to the question of whether it's a good or bad thing to put too much pressure on ourselves when we paint.  After all, shouldn't one paint for the joy of it?  Doesn't pressuring oneself to create a masterpiece suck all the joy out of the process?  Do results matter when no matter what you put out there it can still be called "Art"?

Hhmmm... let me think about it...

Would anyone advise a Major League baseball player to step up to the plate and just swing the bat without caring if he hit the ball or not?  "Just swing for the joy of it!"  Wouldn't be a Big-Leaguer for very long if he did.

Would anyone give advice to a carpenter to just cut some boards and hammer some nails-- maybe it'll look like a house?  "It's the thrill of the wood that matters!"

Why is it OK to tell a painter to just slap paint without caring how it will look? 

Is our poor Artists psyche's really that fragile?  Is painting so stressful that we'll collapse in a fetal position, sucking our thumb in the corner if we try too hard?  Look-- if you don't care about the result, then find something else to do that you will care about.

When I'm working on a painting I am trying my damndest to make it the very best I can possibly make it.  I don't want a painting of mine to end up in a garage sale when it longer matches the couch. I know it may sound far-fetched if not a bit grandiose; Believe it or not, I'm trying to make an heirloom that will be cherished for generations.

In summation:  I think it's important to care.

Speaking of caring; I've become one of those painters.  You know what I mean-- I now take up to a month to complete a painting.  I used to pride myself on the speed with which I could knock out a picture.  It was a skill acquired from only having a few spare moments at a time to paint in between working a couple of jobs and raising two kids.  Then when I started painting full time, I slowed down to completing a painting in about three days.  But over time the complexity of my subjects, along with the technique I use to paint them has meant it takes longer to do them.  I don't mind.  It usually means a better finished product in the end, after all.  What chaps my butt is taking all that time and the painting turns out to be a dud.

I've been doing paintings based on a theme of life in 19th Century I call Americana.  Once I come up with an idea, I spend a lot of time researching to get the details right.  I recently finished the painting Clearing A New Field which shows a team of oxen pulling a large rock.  I live in farming country so I figured finding oxen to look at wouldn't be too tough.  I was wrong.  After asking around some, I got a lead for an ox and horse farm about forty minutes away from me.  I was told a nice woman runs the place and was sure to accommodate me.

They were wrong.

I sent her an email explaining what I was looking for and headed there.  I could tell when I met said woman that this wasn't going to go well.  "What do you want to use my oxen for?  Why don't you use cows-- they look like cows.  I get people bugging me all the time to take pictures of my oxen.  Are you going to take photo's?  What do you do with them?  Do you sell them? What kind of painting?  What are you going to do with it?"  And on, and on...  She told me she only works them twice a week and would let me know when she planned to have them out again.  I thanked her and left.  All that was in early June, and I've yet to hear back from her.

So I used cows instead...

I like it better when I have a little more control over my set up and props.  And if I'm going to do an old fashioned scene, having authentic clothes and props goes a long way.  I had an idea for a painting that I'd been carrying around in my head for awhile, but I couldn't really do anything with it until I bought an old dress in an antique shop.  Setting up a scene and drawing it from life is super fun.

It also beats having to talk to grumpy oxen owners.  I was lucky that the dress didn't cost very much, because after all--

I'm no Rockefeller.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014


West Side

It seems to me that folks just love to know what makes an artist tick.  They want to learn where the artist gets his or her ideas, or what motivates them.  When asking me where I get my inspiration, the question is usually framed, "What the hell are you thinking?"  Believe it or not, I get that question a lot.  Even when I'm not doing anything artistic.  People just want to know, I guess...

So, to settle your curiosity, I thought I'd tell you about a series of paintings I'm doing called "Americana".  And when I say a series, I really have no idea how many I will do.  It's kinda like a Hollywood TV series;  They have no idea how long the show will go on either.  Sure, they want their show to be a huge hit like M*A*S*H or Gunsmoke-- long running, highly revered series.  What they don't want is Manimal.  But, unlike a Hollywood television series, I guess I'm going to keep doing them as long as I want regardless of the "ratings".

So anyways, Americana stems from my love of American history.  Ever since I was a wee tyke I have long felt I was born a century too late. Maybe it was because when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my family moved into an old, beat-up house in Maine.  Nothing had been thrown out of that house for decades.  Aside from the truck loads of garbage that were in every room, it was also chocked full of antiques; Horse-hair parlor furniture, brass beds, old books-- you name it.  Something inside me clicked, and to this day, I have a love of antiques that makes me want to learn about the world those things occupied.

My affinity for days gone by shows in my art as well.  When I was a kid, while my friends were drawing '69 Chevy Nova's or spaceships, I was drawing Civil War soldiers!  (Yeah, I was a geek).  As I grew older, I hid my inner geek and started painting more conventional landscapes and such. But in my mind, a sight like December Field or Farm Lane could have been seen a century ago. 

December Field

Farm Lane

Recently, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself and do an old-fashioned scene straight from my imagination, but with costumes and props to bring about a sense of authenticity to the scene.  I chronicled the making of Morning Chores here.  With that painting, I let my Americana flag fly.

I followed it up with The Scyther:

The Scyther

Then came Sugar Maple Season:

Sugar Maple Season

 Followed by Ice Harvest:

Ice Harvest

Each picture gave me a chance to research and explore the past-- and re-live it a little too.  The best part is that they are a boat-load of fun to do!

As I was getting more involved in these pictures, I started to look around the art world to see who else was doing stuff like this.  To my surprise, I didn't really find anybody.  Oh sure, Western themed art is huge right now.  Scenes of Cowboys and Indians and rustlers on the range are doing quite well.  There are also plenty of painters who do period genre pictures as well.  Those artists hang out at living history reenactment gatherings, take some photos and paint cute kids in bonnets or grizzled frontiersmen (who are really accountants in their day jobs).  Those paintings look pretty much like scenes straight out of Little House On The Prairie.  But what I want to show is the act of living in those times, not just how it looked.  If you think about it, the pictorial possibilities are endless.

As I came up with my Americana theme, I wanted to keep certain parameters in mind:

First off, like I just mentioned; show common people-- men and women-- of the late 19th century working or doing everyday activities that were part of their lives but are forgotten by us these days.

Be as authentic as possible. 

Come up with my own scene-- I will not just colorize an old black and white photo.

Speaking of photos-  Do not use a photographers viewpoint whenever possible.  What I mean is this:  In today's world, we all use photos to help us paint.  Most of the pictures we take are from cameras held up to our faces, giving us a view point of about five and a half feet off the ground.  Even if we eschew photos and paint from life, the view point is the same.  I don't want that.  My viewer could be looking up from the ground, or high overhead looking down from the ceiling.  It's an old illustrators trick, and one I really like.  So I'm stealing utilizing it.

As I was doing these paintings I had no earthly idea what I was going to do with them.  I was painting them for the number one reason to paint:  Because I wanted to.  Luckily, the folks at Bayview Gallery in Brunswick, Maine saw them and asked to represent them.  So, I guess if you do what you love good things will follow.  Yeah-- who knew?

Our hope is that this will be a long-running series.  After all, the world doesn't need another Manimal.